Paracetamol: Information for consumers

12 June 2003

This fact sheet has been prepared by the Therapeutic Goods Administration to inform consumers about the safe use of paracetamol.

  1. Paracetamol has been used in Australia for the relief of pain and fever since the 1950s. It is available in many different forms for adults and children. Common brand names include Panadol, Herron Paracetamol, Panamax, Chemists' Own and Dymadon. Most pharmacy chains and supermarkets also have their own 'house brands'.
  2. Paracetamol is safe and effective when taken as directed on the label. However, if taken either in overdose or in amounts that exceed the recommended dose for more than a few days, the unwanted effects can be severe.
  3. Paracetamol is a useful medicine for people with chronic pain such as painful osteoarthritis. However, paracetamol should only be used for a long period of time under a doctor's supervision.
  4. Many other medicines also contain paracetamol including medicines for coughs and colds, sinus congestion and period pain. The presence of paracetamol is always declared on the label. Be careful not to take more than one medicine containing paracetamol.
  5. Liquid paracetamol products for children come in different strengths and product forms such as baby drops and suspensions that are intended for infants and children of different ages and weights. Always read the label before measuring the dose. Be careful not to mix up the strengths as these are only suitable for certain age groups. Always use a metric medicine measure - don't guess the dose.
  6. Don't give paracetamol to infants, children or adolescents for more than 48 hours unless advised by a doctor.
  7. If an overdose of paracetamol is taken, people should contact the Poisons Information Centre (Phone 131 126) or go to a hospital accident and emergency centre as soon as possible, even if the person who has taken the overdose does not feel ill. The harmful effects of large amounts of paracetamol on the liver are usually delayed so people may feel well for the first day after a paracetamol overdose but can become very sick after that. If treatment is given early enough, there are usually no permanent ill-effects.
  8. Tips for safe use of paracetamol for all ages:
    • Always follow the directions on the label.
    • Take the recommended dose.
    • Don't take paracetamol for more than a few days at a time unless specifically advised to by a doctor or pharmacist.
    • Don't take more than one medicine containing paracetamol - some cough/cold, sinus and period pain medicines also contain paracetamol - check the label or ask your pharmacist.
    • Always store the medicine in a safe place, out of the reach of children.
    • If an overdose is taken, ring the Poisons Information Centre (131 126) or go to a hospital straight away.
    • If pain persists, see your doctor.
  9. Tips for safe use of paracetamol in infants and children:
    • Make sure you use the right product and strength for the child's age and weight.
    • Make sure you use the right dose for the child's age and weight.
    • Check the dose on the label every time you use the medicine.
    • Don't keep giving paracetamol for more than 48 hours unless specifically advised to by a doctor.
    • Always use a metric medicine measure to measure the dose.
    • Always make sure the bottle cap is secured after use.
  10. For more information ask your pharmacist or doctor.

The TGA has published a comprehensive report Review of Non-prescription Analgesics: an update, which includes paracetamol. This report is available from this website.